the best christmas pageant ever

When You Get into a Christmas Rut

Have you thought about the Christmas Story?

I mean really thought about it.

When you have grown up going to church your whole life, hearing the Christmas account, and setting up your family’s Nativity scene, it can be so easy to glaze over the beauty, reality, and people involved in the account.

If you have found yourself in a Christmas rut and the Christmas account no longer moves your soul to awe, wonder or tears, I have found the story for you.

the best Christmas pageant ever

In The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, the most unlikely children help a church remember the beauty of the Christmas account.

The Herdman’s are possibly the worst children ever. Through a series of hilarious events, they become part of the church’s Christmas pageant. As these children are hearing the Christmas account for the first time, they ask questions. Good questions. Questions that make those of us who have known the account our whole lives actually think about the characters we have become so familiar with.

But it isn’t until the actual pageant that the true beauty of the story comes out. This story has a way of revealing the prideful, self-righteous attitudes in our own hearts and the beauty of a sincere heart hearing of Christ for the first time and coming to him with the only thing it has to offer. It reminds us that maybe, just maybe, the angel’s announcement of “Unto you a Child is born” was announced with joy and thrill.

the best Christmas pageant ever

I had a hard time reading the last two pages of the book as my voice cracked at the end of each sentence, and my son came to “console” me as I read the last line.

The tears were not from sadness… well maybe they were.

Maybe the tears came because I have gotten so comfortable with the Christmas account in Luke chapter 2 that I have forgotten to read it with the awe and wonder it deserves. Maybe they came because children have a way of seeing things more clearly than adults do, and the children in this story helped me see the Christmas account again for the first time.

This book took us two days to read through, but we could have easily finished it in one day. It’s a small book with seven chapters and is completely entertaining (if you are a Classical Conversations family, like we are, your children will have to read it in the Challenge years, so it’s a good story to get familiar with now). We laughed through chapters one through six, and then saw the beauty of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Wise Men, and the angels in chapter seven.

After reading through the book, we watched the movie on Youtube (I’m a firm believer of reading the book first and then watching the movie). The movie follows the book very closely with very little creative license taken. (NOTE: In the movie one child says, “They talk about sexy things,” which isn’t true, in her efforts to get the Herdman children kicked out of the pageant because one of them got the part she wanted.)

The best Christmas pageant ever

This book is also available in a condensed version as a picture book for younger children and has the same effect in reminding us of the awe and wonder of the Christmas account.

If you find yourself getting into a rut, if you can’t see the wonder and awe of Jesus coming as a baby to the world because of all of the “grown up” stuff that gets in our way, then maybe you need to take a small break in the busyness of the season and look at Christmas from the perspective of a child.

when you get into a Christmas rut

keeping-christmas-simple

How to Keep Christmas Simple

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I am a huge fan of Christmas!

HUGE!

I love the feeling in the air, the decorations, the lights, the glitter, the way stores are decorated (in December… NOT September), and giving to my family.

But how many years did I go into the Christmas season with gusto and grand ideas only to burn myself out mid-December? Pretty much every year.

Each year I go into the Christmas season with the idea that this is going to be the best Christmas ever!

keeping-christmas-simple

I figure out how many fun Christmas related activities we can fit into our schedule, and I cram all of our days and weekends with something to do.

My kids end up tired.

I end up frustrated that no one appreciates the effort I put into making this the best Christmas ever.

And then we are ready for Christmas to be over and done with and to move into the New Year.

But not this year…

I have always been a fan of simple living, of not making things more complicated than necessary, of believing that less is more. But Christmastime has never reflected that.

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, we don’t have to see every Christmas pageant in our county.

This year, we don’t have to attend every Christmas party or activity.

This year, we don’t have to plan to do something Christmas related every night.

This year, we don’t have to have an advent calendar that involves a ton of extra gifts for me to purchase, wrap, and remember to distribute each day.

Instead…

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, we’ll stay home more evenings than we go out and watch the old Christmas cartoons I grew up watching like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and the Little Drummer Boy. And because I homeschool my kids, we can stay up as late as we want to watch these shows and sleep as long as we need to the next morning.

This year we will delight in the simple joy of finding our little monkey pal, Melk, in the mornings and learn something about the character of God.

This year, we will limit the parties we go to, and, if bringing an exchange gift is necessary, we’ll bring something simple but sweet.

This year, if there isn’t a Christmas moment on the calendar, we won’t make one up just for the sake of it. We’ll just carry on as usual.

This year, we will make paper chains and countdown to Christmas the old fashioned way.

Because…

Satan’s mission has always been to destroy what God has created- to interfere with the message that God loved us and sent his Son (Awana Cubbies key verse). How are we supposed to stop and reflect on the purpose of Christmas Day if, during the time of the year that we are supposed to remember and recognize the giving of God’s gift to us, we get so busy and distracted and we keep our kids running from one activity to another?

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, rather than focusing on the “show” of Christmas, I want to focus on the message. That God loved His creation and gave us a gift, the most precious gift He could give- His Son.

Trendy wrapping paper with a perfect bow was not the wrapping of this gift. Strips of cloth were the wrappings of this gift.

His surroundings were not Pinterest worthy. A barn with hay and animals was the setting for His birth.

Those who came to see him that night did not come with $5 gifts for a gift exchange. They came with empty hands, but sincere hearts.

I want our Christmas to reflect those ideals.

So here is your Christmas challenge…

Before you are swept up in the tinsel and show of Christmas…

Before you are knee deep in the quicksand of activities and parties…

Before you find yourself drowning in receipts and wrapping paper…

Take an hour one evening to think through what you want your Christmas to look like.

Figure out your non-negotiable calendar items.

Next, determine in advance how many activities you will be a part of.

Decide how many $5 dollar exchange gifts your budget will allow for.

For your sanity to be kept in tact, set in stone how many evenings you need to stay home each week.

Establish your gift giving list early and stick to it.

And then, sit back and enjoy this Christmas with your family and closest friends.

simple Christmas

chocolate peanut butter treats

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Treats

I look forward to the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season. This is the season of family get togethers, good food, laughing till it hurts, cousins sitting around the living room remember when we were kids while watching our kids play together, and eating desserts that typically only come out at this time of year.

One dessert I pass everything else up for is a three ingredient treasure- chocolate, peanut butter, and Ritz crackers.

That’s it.

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

We just call them Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Treats, but they should have a better name considering how delicious they are. And don’t expect them to fall under any of the “healthy” categories of food these days…

…we’ll just pretend they are calorie free!

You can definitely involve your children in making these treats. One can spread the peanut butter…

…one can sandwich the crackers…

…and Mom can dip them in the melted chocolate.

How easy was that!

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

At this time of year, you can often find the ingredients on sale. Does it get any better than that?

These treats are so easy to make and are so loved, my sister requested my aunt (maker of this treat) to make them with white chocolate instead of milk chocolate as favors at her wedding. She had them boxed in little white boxes with ribbon to match her wedding colors and placed at each table setting. Simply beautiful.

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

Ingredients:

Ritz crackers
Peanut butter
Melted dipping chocolate (packaged as almond bars)

Directions:

  1. Using peanut butter and Ritz crackers, make little sandwiches.
  2. Dip Ritz peanut butter sandwiches in melted chocolate.
  3. Set on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and put in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  4. Sit back and enjoy.

I would love to hear of any quick or simple recipes you enjoy around the holidays. Feel free to share with us your recipe or the link to one on your own blog in the comments.

The original post can be found here.

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

must have Christmas book

Your Must-Have Christmas Book

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Every holiday has one iconic book that traditionally gets pulled out year after year. For our family at Christmas, this will become that book.

Christmas Love Letters From God by Glenys Nellist is the third in her “Love Letters” series. These beautifully written and illustrated books have one purpose- to remind children that God loves them and has a great purpose for their lives.

must have Christmas book

From the moment I looked through Christmas Love Letters from God, I was in love. The colors, the illustrations, the story-telling, the poetry, the “God’s promise” verse, and, of course, the letter all blended together to make a perfect Christmas experience on paper.

The Illustrations

Choosing where to begin was a hard decision. With each turn of the page, I always let my eyes settle on the illustrations. Rachel Clowes has followed the style of illustrations found in Love Letters from God and Little Letters from God and has done a brilliant job. From the main focus illustration to the little accents scattered around the page, the eyes of your little ones will always have someplace to look as you read the story aloud. The illustrations tell the story for little ones who cannot yet read.

Colors definitely set the tone of this book, yet instead of being harsh, the muted shades of red, green, and blue bring the feel of Christmas without harshness, and draw you in. I couldn’t help but grab a cup of coffee, sit in the living room with the fireplace on, and just look through each and every page, soaking in the illustrations and colors, before I even read the words.

must have Christmas book

The Story-Telling and Poetry

I have yet to meet or talk to author Glenys Nellist in person, but I imagine her having the gentlest, softest, most peaceful voice based on her style of writing. She chooses words that are quiet, effective, and beautiful. She tells the story concisely with enough words to keep the attention of little ones, but in a way where nothing is lost.

I love how Glenys began her book with the Prophet Isaiah. A surprising way to begin a Christmas book, yet a very appropriate way. Isaiah’s prophecy is featured in Handel’s Messiah, yet so many Christmas accounts overlook him. It makes for a great conversation starter in sharing how long God’s people had been waiting for their Messiah.

In the midst of the narrative story-telling, Glenys does what she does best. She takes a quick detour and tells part of the story through poetry. I am always amazed at how she is able to find the right words to tell the story with rhythm and rhyme.

must have Christmas book

God’s Perfect Promise

When you turn the page, you will find the story for the evening finishing up, and “God’s Perfect Promise”- a quick Bible verse promise that wraps up the part of the account just read printed on an illustrated tag. The verse is paraphrased so it is easy for little ones to understand and even memorize.

The Letter

Our favorite part is the “letter from God”, which is where the book gets its name. Each letter is a lift-the-flap attachment on the page. Paraphrasing Scripture and making it personally applicable, she begins each letter with “Dear ____________”. The rest of the letter is God’s promises personalized and related to the account just read. After reading the account of Jospeh, children are reminded in the letter that when God asks them to do something, He will also give them the grace to accomplish it.

A beautiful addition to this book which is different from the previous letter books is life-the-flap letter from the child to God. When my daughter saw it, she was so excited! After reading and hearing all of the letters from God to her, she was going to be able to write one to him!

Christmas Love Letters from God has already become my favorite Christmas book. I look forward to reading it with my children again and again over the next two months. Whether you choose to read a chapter each night or use it over the course of Advent (which could most definitely be a use for this book), it is a definite must for any home’s library.

must have Christmas book

intentional-celebrations

Building Monuments

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God loves a good celebration. So much so that He instituted times when His people came together to rejoice with food and symbols to represent what the celebration was for.

intentional-celebrations

But the celebrations were not meant to be frivolous. They were not meant to be commercialized. These celebrations were meant to be spiritual monuments for the people to look back and remember God’s goodness to them as they made the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. These celebrations were to mark specific moments in time when God showed His provision, protection, love, and mercy to His stubborn, stiff-necked people (Deuteronomy 9:13). These celebrations were to contain lessons that would be passed down from generation to generation so there would never be a generation who did not know the Lord or the things He had done (Judges 2:10).

As I think of my own life, I can remember distinct moments where God showed His hand of provision, protection, love, and mercy on my journey from childhood into adulthood.

He provided a piano for me when my parents could not afford to buy one. (In fact, my family nor I have ever had to buy a piano, but we have almost always had one in our home or access to one since I was 11 years old.)

intentional-celebrations

He provided the money needed for me to attend college through scholarships, generous gifts from others, and some savings my father had intentionally put aside without the need for college loans.

He protected us from an oncoming tornado when I was 7 years old and caused that tornado to completely turn around and head in a different direction.

His love and mercy allowed my mother to know she would have a granddaughter before she passed away.

His goodness provided for our children so much that we can look at their rooms and count on one hand what we have had to actually purchase for them.

I want these memories to be monuments for my children to see, for them to reflect back on when times get rough in their lives, when they are unsure how the end of the story will turn out. I want to retell these stories to my children so they will not forget them, and so they will have stories to pass down to future generations of God’s goodness, grace, and mercy.

intentional-celebrations

As I thought of our personal monuments, I realized that underneath the debris of our calendar holidays, there are beautiful monuments for us to refer back to when the going gets rough.

When you pull away the tinsel, the lights, the wrapping paper, the wish lists, and the empty boxes, there is a stable with a sleeping Baby who was given as the greatest Gift humanity has ever received. During those times when we feel that we have nothing, that hope is lost, that life is for those in high position and not for us, that Baby stands as a monument saying, “I was given to you.”

Hidden under the very last strand of shredded, plastic, green grass, eggs, and bunnies is a cross of raw wood that is stained with blood. When we visit that monument we are reminded of how very loved we are- so much that someone was willing to die in our place to carry our burden, and reap the punishment for what we sowed.

Some monuments are built as reminders to us of principles in God’s Word.

Buried under the flowers, chocolate, cards, and paper hearts is a man who, as tradition tells us, defied an emperor in order to keep those in his flock from breaking God’s law.

intentional-celebrations

Journey past the rainbows, the leprechauns, the pots of gold, and shamrocks and you will find a young English boy, kidnapped by pirates, and taken to Ireland to be a slave. Despite his circumstances he prayed to God one hundred times a day, escaped his captors, and eventually went back to Ireland as a missionary to reach the people he had grown to love for Christ.

Travel through the fields of cornucopias, feathers, black and white garb, and gaze upon the monuments of a small band of pilgrims who are celebrating what only the hand of God could have brought about and done.

I want the “holidays” to be more than just a stressful time filled with rushed trips to the stores, receipts, and commercialism.

I want these days to be “holy days”- days that turn our focus to God and His goodness towards humanity.

I want my children to visit these monuments yearly, not with the expectation of temporary trinkets they may receive, but with the expectation of receiving the long-lasting gift of hope these monuments stand for.

more-than-just-a-day

One of my favorite books is Jerusalem Jackson Greer’s book, A Homemade Year. In it, she lists dates that are significant to the history of the Christian Church at large- spiritual monuments. Days that I usually breeze by as I go about my year have a spiritual significance and lesson to teach me and my children. Days that I would have scheduled a doctor’s appointment or a library trip were monuments meant to turn our hearts towards the Lord.

Many of these dates are not on our calendars.

They are probably not even on the radars of marketers.

But these dates are there, and they are a gift. Not just to me, but to my family as well. They are days that I have an opportunity to use as monuments for my family. Monuments with a beautiful history that my family can look back to and remember God’s goodness in the past and His promised faithfulness in the future.

ordinary-days

The Beauty of Ordinary Days

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I have grown to love July 5 through Labor Day weekend.

There is nothing special about those days, nothing flashy, nothing that takes our breath away.

As much as I love holidays and making those days special for my family, there is something about those two months in the summer that has become precious to me.

They’re ordinary.

For me, these are the slow days.

ordinary-days

The days when we don’t have to leave the house… or we can if we choose to.

These are the days when trips to the beach with a picnic lunch are for more than a tan. They are refreshing to the soul.

These are the days that bring us peace before the storm of back-to-school, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

These are the days that Pinterest has not affected… yet. There are no articles on how to make these days spectacular, to decorate your home for them, or to throw elaborate parties for them.

These are the days of solitude. The days when we stay close to our immediate family before schedules pick up and send us flying in different directions. Days when we stay home without the worry of letting others down.

These are the days when our children can play to their hearts’ content without the pressure of being rushed here and there.

ordinary-days

But it was not always this way for me. As Jerusalem Jackson Greer says in her book, A Homemade Year, “Embracing the ordinary is something I had to learn.”

I had fallen into the pattern of thinking that I wasn’t giving my children everything they deserve. I felt that keeping them busy, always with something to do, somewhere to go, or someone to see, was going to give them the best childhood experience I could offer.

Then one day, my four year old asked what we were doing that day. I listed what I had planned, so proud of myself that I was giving him so many experiences. He looked at me and said, “But I want to stay home.”

It never occurred to me that my children didn’t need or want all of these experiences.

We began to cut back our activities significantly. “Less is more,” as my husband always says. No more trips to the summer movies. No more library classes. No summer art classes at a local craft store.

ordinary-days

Instead, we filled our time seeing family, going to the beach, and swimming at my sister’s community pool.

We watched Netflix.

Happy messes were made and left for a day or two (anyone who knows me knows this was a huge step for me).

We colored… I colored, too.

The ordinary, the mundane became beautiful.

And I saw why God instituted the day of rest (Genesis 2:2-3).

ordinary-days

Life is busy. There are schedules to keep, appointments to be made, work deadlines, school events, and it doesn’t ever seem to end. Unless we make a point of taking a time to rest, to refresh ourselves, to bring quiet to our souls, and give ourselves space to hear from God.

As it turns out, our summer was not boring, and when special days came up (like an unexpected trip to Legoland for one of the kids), they were extraordinary!

As the school year picks up, my heart feels a tinge of sadness. I know that schedules will resume, activities will find their way onto the calendar, and life will start chugging along at a rapid pace again.

But I have learned over this summer, that I can limit the appointments, the activities, the busyness, and we can continue to enjoy ordinary days throughout the year.